Gov. Ralph Northam said Thursday that the state will use $50 million in federal money to help Virginia residents pay their rent and mortgage as they deal with the economic fallout of COVID-19.
A total of $50 million for the state’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds will go to the new program, which the state is launching Monday. A statewide moratorium on evictions lifts the same day, with the Virginia Supreme Court ordering earlier this week that eviction hearings can resume.
“Once the moratorium is lifted, it is expected that thousands of Virginians will face eviction and that’s just not acceptable,” Northam said, asking chief circuit court judges around the state to bar evictions until July 20.
Northam did not ask the state’s high court for another extension, saying “we have a plan in place that we’re confident that we’ll start in time to help with this.”
“Virginians are facing a number of difficulties, but having a safe and stable place to call shouldn’t be one of them,” Northam said, adding later: “We don’t want anybody getting evicted at any time, but especially not at this difficult time.”
The state did not release Thursday specific information on how to apply for the program, which is being administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, or the criteria to be eligible.
Virginia’s 5.12% eviction rate, representing the number of evictions per 100 rented homes, was above the national average, according to 2016 research from the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. Richmond had the second-highest eviction rate in the country, the same research found.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced this week that the city will spend $6 million in CARES Act funding to fund an eviction diversion program and provide rental assistance to residents. The mayor’s office said roughly 1,900 households in the city face a pending eviction.
“While this program is a good first step towards giving Virginians the relief they desperately need, this effort does not address that courts will resume the eviction process on June 29th, which leaves thousands of Virginians vulnerable to homelessness, and it is likely that many people will be evicted before the rent and mortgage relief program is fully up and running,” New Virginia Majority, a statewide advocacy organization, said in a statement in response to the governor’s announcement.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus called Northam’s announcement “a significant first step in the right direction to provide much-needed relief to Virginians, especially with the added COVID-19-related economic impacts on housing and the economy.”
“The Governor and his Administration assured us that they would focus on providing financial relief,” said Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, the chairman of the caucus. “Together, we look forward to doing more to address underlying systemic issues related to housing and doing more to help provide relief.”
The caucus reiterated Northam’s call for circuit court judges to not act on pending eviction proceedings.
So did Monica Sarmiento, the executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights.
“COVID-19 pandemic has hit the immigrant community the hardest,” Sarmiento said. “During the last few months, immigrant families have had landlords illegally evicting people or have been facing eviction threats.”
Thursday’s briefing was the last of Northam’s regularly scheduled COVID-19 news briefings, which he said will transition to an as-needed basis. The governor has held 47 briefings since March 4, three days before the state’s first reported case.